TIME­LESS MOVE­MENT

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the colour and en­ergy of the Laura Dance Fes­ti­val.

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS STEVE MADGWICK PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ELISE HASSEY

AT THE PRE­CISE MO­MENT her un­cle died, an owl perched it­self on the back fence. It gazed through the house like an X-ray. Come dawn, it would fly away to wher­ever owls spend their sleepy days, re­turn­ing to the same spot ev­ery sin­gle night. Noth­ing, it seems, would budge the owl. Not that Ta­mara Pear­son wanted it to go. She knew what or, more pre­cisely, who the owl was. Tonight, Ta­mara is an owl. Not that owl; not ex­actly. She scratches sharply in the dusty earth, flut­ters in and out of fever­ish shad­ows that have a life of their own thanks to a pal­pi­tat­ing light show. Her freaky, folk­loric get-up sen­tences the unini­ti­ated pre-schooler to a child­hood of night ter­rors. But the chil­dren of Cape York Penin­sula’s Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties who flock around the Laura Dance Fes­ti­val cir­cle tonight – way, way past their bed­times – do not fear the owl. They know things; things that this white fella does not and most likely never will. Ta­mara is prin­ci­pal for Cairns-based Sa­cred Creations Dance, four out­back hours’ drive away. She’s not com­pet­ing in the day­time in­ter­com­mu­nity chal­lenges, but has the daunt­ing task of pro­vid­ing night­time en­ter­tain­ment at one of the most im­por­tant cul­tural events in Aus­tralia. Her deputies are an amal­gam of her nieces and a mob of Laura town’s prog­eny “who’ve never re­ally got the chance to dance at their own fes­ti­val”. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for an out­sider to truly grasp the minu­tiae of In­dige­nous dance, cul­ture and spir­i­tu­al­ity in a few days, but if you have the chance to do it any­where, that chance will come at Laura’s fes­ti­val. For a start, some things sim­ply aren’t sup­posed to be seen or heard by the out­sider. That’s the way it is and will al­ways be. But mostly, the mod­ern does not want to – or can­not – see the an­cient; too en­tan­gled in un­bend­ing prisms of un­der­stand­ing strictly sci­en­tific no­tions of time, space and bi­ol­ogy. If you can’t see past these rubrics, then you re­ally have lit­tle chance of ‘get­ting it’. “Ob­vi­ously, the owl is very spe­cial for me,” Ta­mara says, with her scary owl mask re­moved. She is con­nected to the Cape on both sides of her fam­ily; her ‘peo­ple’ from Hope Vale, just north of Cook­town. “It’s a sign to say that the peo­ple who have passed on are still with us. He/she is a very wise an­i­mal that holds the key to se­cret knowl­edge and holds an an­cient cul­ture within its wings. It’s the totem for some peo­ple too and helps us to re­mem­ber to show re­spect to the care­tak­ers of the land,” she says. “Re­mem­ber, our Dream­ing sto­ries are myth­i­cal, lit­er­ally like a dream. We might not ac­tu­ally see it, but we truly be­lieve it.” And there it is, the epiphany; a lens with which to view the per­for­mances that un­fold over the decades-old three-day fes­ti­val, no mat­ter the

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